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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Parsley vs. Olson on Wind Energy: Analysis from Madison AAUW Forum

Wow! There's a lot to cover from the AAUW District 8 legislative candidates' forum here in Madison last night. I'll try to break it down by Senate and House race and by issues. You can read my straight notes on all the candidates' statements, with no commentary, in last night's posts.

First, let's look at the senate candidates' responses to the final question of the night, "What have you done to promote wind power?"

On this question, Russell Olson and Scott Parsley both can speak with authority as employees of electric power companies. Olson's company, Heartland, is dedicating the Wessington Springs farm next week and is working with the various green power outfits over in Howard. Parsley cited his experience at East River, working on the first wind turbine project in South Dakota (in Chamberlain) and developing incentives for counties.

Olson, the only sitting legislator among the candidates, should have been able to wield a further advantage by citing legislation he has supported (and, one would hope, passed). Indeed, Olson went that direction, citing three pieces of legislation he co-sponsored: HB 1123, HCR 1010, and HB 1184.
  • Olson was one of 74 co-sponsors of HB 1123, which was really a piece of legislative fluff, a toothless bill setting a voluntary objective of getting 10% of South Dakota's electricity from renewable and recycled energy sources by 2015. The only concrete action required by HB 1123 was more paperwork from retailers of electric power.
  • HCR 1010 was a mere resolution on biofuels, passed almost unanimously but achieving as much as the other resolutions on the legislative agenda—i.e., nothing. (Resolutions are like the Happy Dollar statements the Kiwanis make at their meetings... but without the dollars.)
  • HB 1184, as Olson acknowledged, got tabled in committee, as it was "gobbled up" by HB 1320, the Governor's bill providing tax incentives for wind energy.
All three examples cited by Olson did indeed "promote" wind energy, but no more than the blog posts you read here: positive talk raising awareness, but no concrete action. Not much of an advantage for the freshman legislator.

Parsley perhaps surprised some listeners by showing he's been as involved in wind power legislation as the sitting legislator in the room, if not more so. Parsley noted that rural electric coops, including East River, have developed some of the legislation on wind power that Pierre has considered. That includes participating in crafting HB 1320 (PDF—see pp. 14–15), the tax incentive bill that passed this year. While Olson's HB 1184 was getting tabled, Parsley was working with the Governor's office to close the incentives gap between South Dakota and other states. Parsley said he was hoping to close that gap by $10 million; the final legislation closed it by $5 million. And don't forget, Parsley is a Democrat, talking about reaching a successful compromise with a Republican administration.

So while both candidates have industry experience with wind power, it was Parsley, not Olson, who was able to talk about achieving bipartisan compromise and achieving practical results.

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